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by Peter Rousselot — September 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm 1,390 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs the need to replace a sewer line looms, Arlington County bureaucrats are trying to shift the replacement cost onto the backs of private homeowners in Lyon Park.

After decades of using public funds to pay the maintenance costs of a Lyon Park sewer line, Arlington County staff and lawyers suddenly are spinning fanciful theories to avoid paying to replace the line.

Background

In late Fall 2013, 11 residences in Lyon Park were notified by the County that because of a failing sewer line behind their properties (900 block of N. Danville and N. Daniel Streets), they would be financially responsible for connecting to the County sewer system at a County estimated cost of $10,000 to $20,000 per homeowner. The homeowners were forced to retain a private attorney.

In an Aug. 15, 2014 letter, Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz argues that because the County cannot find in its own files any record of a deed of conveyance of this specific sewer line to the County, the County is not the owner. Therefore, the County has no obligation to pay to replace the line.

In a Sept. 12 reply, the homeowners’ attorney explains that the County assumed ownership of this and other similar sewer lines when it acquired all of the assets of a series of community sewer systems. Because the County acquired all of the assets of each system as a whole, there never were conveyances of individual sewer lines.

Implications

Why is County staff taking such an antagonistic and legalistic position against these 11 Lyon Park residences?

This issue is not unique to this one sewer line. County attorneys and officials have stated in meetings with these homeowners that there may be other such sewer lines in Arlington. That shouldn’t matter because Arlington should be stepping up to the plate and assuming its rightful obligation to pay to maintain and replace all such lines.

It does cost a lot more to replace a sewer line than to maintain one. But, sewer lines are a core government service just like water mains. These are the government services to which Arlington should be assigning the highest priority in spending our tax dollars.

Yet, even though Arlington property owners already have the highest tax bills in Northern Virginia, County bureaucrats are trying to offload all of these sewer replacement costs on a small group of Lyon Park homeowners who are already paying those high tax bills.

If Arlington wants to be the “world-class community” to which it aspires, using our tax dollars to provide first-world sewer service would be a good place to start.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — September 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm 569 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

Last night, Arlington Republicans passed recommendations on the bond questions Arlingtonians will see on the ballot this year.

In terms of dollars and cents, voters will be asked to approve just over $218 million in new debt on Nov. 4. That is roughly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Arlington — plus interest. It is part of a $2.7 billion, 10-year spending plan on infrastructure projects.

For further perspective, in FY 2015 we will pay $60.7 million to service our current debt obligations. That is roughly 9 percent of our general fund budget.

Republicans recommended a “no” vote on the parks bond. With the aquatics center in an indefinite holding pattern, there are millions of unallocated dollars that were passed by voters under the guise of “parks and recreation.” The Board may have them earmarked for a pool, but this currently available bond authority can be used for the 2014 projects.

Once the Board sorts out the new plans for the pool complex, they can come back to the voters and ask them to approve the final amount. The Board could even try a novel concept, a straight up or down vote on the pool, rather than lumping it in with other “parks and recreation” projects.

Arlington Republicans recommended a “yes” vote on the other three bond measures — each recommendation coming with reservations.

We have a capacity problem in our schools that must be addressed, but a $105.78 million blank check to the School Board is disconcerting to many. Parents and local neighborhoods are feeling left out of the planning process. And, with millions just lying around to buy MacBook Airs for students, many are questioning the way our schools put their budgets together.

The Metro and transportation bond is a lot like “parks and recreation.” Voters vote for it in large part because they support Arlington’s commitment to the Metro. The other transportation projects have often proven questionable. The County Board’s transportation priorities and funding streams should be under a microscope as the Board just approved a $26 million contract for the Columbia Pike trolley. A better way to do transportation bonding would be to approve the Metro bond separately, so that the other transportation projects included could be evaluated on their own merits.

The community infrastructure bond will fund things like 911 communications — certainly tough to vote against. But one could ask why at least some of these items could not be paid for out of the millions in annual closeout funds available to the Board, rather than added to our indebtedness?

Arlingtonians would be well-served to educate themselves on how the County plans to spend their tax dollars and arrive at their own conclusions on the merits of these bonds. They should also consider asking County Board members why controversial projects are often lumped in with other bonds rather than standing on their own merits.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Gillian Burgess — September 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,116 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Gillian BurgessArlington is on the cusp of the most formative decision-making process of recent history: the master planning process for our school system, through which we will create more schools.

The outcomes will impact everyone in the community. We will see reduced or increased congestion on our streets, a wise use of Arlington County’s resources or wasteful spending, and either increased access to services for everyone or only concentrated benefits.

Because of the importance of this process to all of Arlington, the best outcomes will occur through close cooperation between Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools . Before us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to come together to both meet the urgent capacity needs of today and lay the foundation for the next generation of Arlington families.

A new, collaborative planning process should make use of both the County’s award-winning expertise in transportation and smart development and our school system’s award-winning expertise in educating children. I am confident that active involvement by our talented APS and County staffs, elected officials and interested residents in developing this new process will lead to success. A broad, inclusive public process will work.

Arlington is a great place to raise a family. It has incredible parks, bike paths, charming neighborhoods, and some of the best public schools in the nation. These characteristics are no accident, but rather the result of decades of award-winning planning and smart development by the County and APS.

It is for these reasons that I have chosen to raise my family here. And I am not alone. Arlington’s public schools are bursting at the seams and continue to grow rapidly. As this growth has overwhelmed school system capacity, the processes we have relied on to plan school capacity in the past are no longer sufficient.

In the past, long-range planning by APS and County government have largely been separate efforts with different time horizons. The County’s long-range planning considers how corridors or study areas are used over 20 or 30 years. Schools, on the other hand, base their planning efforts on shorter-term projections, and are focused more on the classroom.

In the face of a shortage of public land and our rapidly-growing population, we must do a better job of integrating these processes. We must plan, locate, fund, and build school facilities to serve the long-term interest of all our children and community members. We need to look at the system as a whole rather than ad hoc discussions that consider only one location or need.

Our historically separated planning processes have resulted in historically separated budgets. As we consider the schools’ master planning process, it will be important to look at costs and benefits to Arlington as a whole, whether expenditures are going to be part of the APS budget or the County’s budget.

For example, if a particular school location would require many buses that would increase maintenance costs for our roads, those costs should be considered when evaluating that site. We should also consider costs and benefits not immediately quantifiable that we know will have a significant impact on County and APS budgets over time.

This new, improved collaborative master planning process should be guided by shared values and solid principles. Here are some values and principles that I believe should guide the process. (more…)

by Barbara Favola — September 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm 721 0

The following letter to the editor was submitted by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Del. Kaye Kory (D-38), the chairs of the Reproductive Health Caucuses in the Senate and House of Delegates, respectively.

Our health care system is neither healthy nor accessible for many women, but Richmond lawmakers have an opportunity to make improvements. They need to stop playing politics with people’s lives and begin to start governing.

In large swaths of Virginia, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, women are suffering. This suffering affects the well being of all of us, not just the children and communities that are directly affected.

You probably didn’t know that childless, uninsured women are not eligible for Medicaid in Virginia even if they are planning to have children. Moreover, for many mothers who are eligible, they lose their Medicaid coverage 60 days after giving birth because they exceed the very low income requirements to qualify for Virginia’s sparse Medicaid program. This exacerbates an already stressful period in a mother’s life.

In fact, mothers in most parts of Virginia qualify for Medicaid only if they earn less than 40 percent of the federal poverty line. This means that a single mother in Richmond cannot receive Medicaid if she makes $6,100 a year or more. But if Virginia participated in Medicaid Expansion, a program for which we are already sending tax dollars ($5 million per day) to Washington, hard working individuals, including women, earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line would gain insurance coverage. Virginia’s tax dollars are supporting Medicaid Expansion in 29 other States but not here at home!

Medicaid expansion may not be perfect, but the cost of not going forward is astronomical. We all know that maternal health is critically important for the healthy development of a child. This means that prospective moms can only achieve a healthy state if they have access to care before pregnancy as well as access to pre- and post-natal care.  Preventing low-birth weight babies and developmentally delayed babies is something we must embrace. Virginia cannot afford to wait; we must pass Medicaid Expansion now.

by Max Burns — September 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm 944 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Max BurnsWhen the 8th Congressional District first sent Alexandria Mayor Jim Moran to Congress in 1990, Arlington could count the population of young people in single-digit percentages. Nearly a quarter century later, nearly half of our population is between the ages of 18 and 36.

That’s the main finding of a study on young professionals in Arlington released by Arlington Economic Development and based on research questions developed by Southeastern Institute of Research.

But there’s much more to the story of Arlington’s young taxpayers — this influx brings a host of opportunities and challenges for defining the Arlington of the future.

It’s no secret that young people come to Arlington because of our low unemployment rate in a competitive job market. We draw some of the most educated, accomplished young professionals in the country into private sector and government service. We also offer a county that prioritizes green space, walkability, safety and ease of transportation in return. It’s a compelling offer, and one of the reasons I chose to pursue my college work in Northern Virginia nearly a decade ago.

The County Board deserves credit for the long-term plan that built Arlington into a destination for talented, next-generation employees able to contribute to Arlington’s economic vitality. As the “millennials” study shows, the R-B Corridor is a focal point for young professionals interested in dining and nightlife.

What the report doesn’t say is that public planning decades in the making built the R-B Corridor into a mixed-use, open space that serves as a social hub for our young community and creates a strong tax base that helps protect neighborhoods and social services.

The initial Arlington draw may be about well-paying jobs and a safe, well-planned community, but intangibles keep young people around. Many young people learn the value of Arlington’s neighborhoods and their importance to our future. We see young people hoping to build up the resources to buy a home in Arlington and to consider putting down roots and starting a family.

This does not happen by accident. Arlington County has found ways to involve young professionals meaningfully in the mechanisms of managing a municipal space. Our County boards and commissions are dotted with young faces new to policy alongside those longer-term residents who have helped build Arlington into a modern magnet for growth. Institutional knowledge isn’t hoarded — it’s shared between generations to develop new and capable civic leaders.

That extends to our politics as well. I have the privilege of serving as President of the Arlington Young Democrats and working with some of the most intelligent, focused young people I’ve ever met. They’re interested not just in winning elections, but in doing good for Arlington County and shaping the dialogue around what our home will be in years to come. They hope that the county will not retreat from the sound policies that have made Arlington such an attractive place to live for people of all ages.

It is also a privilege to compete respectfully with my counterpart in the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans, Matthew Hurtt. While we don’t agree on every policy or proposal, our shared hope for Arlington’s continued success breeds a mutual respect often lacking in other communities. (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — September 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotWhile Virginia’s poor continue to get sick and die without access to adequate health care, Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders — unlike Republican leaders in many other states – have not presented a leadership proposal to address this issue.

During Virginia’s 2014 regular legislative session, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, lobbied the legislature for a straightforward Medicaid expansion proposal. He failed. After the legislature turned him down, he ordered his Secretary of Health to present a plan for unilateral Medicaid expansion by the executive branch. Facing the prospect that such large-scale unilateral action would likely be overturned in the courts, Governor McAuliffe backed down.

Instead, he presented a very small unilateral expansion plan. According tot The New York Times, under McAuliffe’s latest plan,:

[O]nly 25,000 uninsured Virginians would be receiving coverage, far fewer than the 400,000 he has said are eligible if the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The retreat [signaled] Mr. McAuliffe’s acceptance that he is politically hemmed in, especially after Republicans took control of both houses of the General Assembly following the surprise resignation of a Democratic senator in June.

We get it. Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders have proven they won’t agree to a straightforward Medicaid expansion, while McAuliffe has (tacitly) acknowledged that he lacks the constitutional power to go it alone. Where does that leave the 375,000 poor Virginians who will continue to lack adequate health care even if McAuliffe’s latest plan goes into effect? It leaves them just where they are now. That’s wrong.

The Virginia legislature is scheduled to reconvene in a special session this week — supposedly to consider what to do about this issue. 100 Delegates and 40 Senators are returning to Richmond for a special legislative session at taxpayer expense. But, how can we Virginia taxpayers reasonably expect this to produce a coherent compromise if the leadership on one side — the Democrats — has presented one plan after another for a year, while the leadership on the other side — the Republicans — has presented no plan at all? We can’t.

Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders don’t need to re-invent this wheel. They can pick and choose from a whole host of options pioneered by Republican leaders in many other states like Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

In describing his plan, Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett noted:

From the beginning, I said we needed a plan that was created in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania — a plan that would allow us to reform a financially unsustainable Medicaid program and increase access to health care for eligible individuals through the private market. 

Memo to Virginia’s Republican legislative leaders: where is your leadership plan created in Virginia for Virginians?

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — September 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm 748 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

ARLnow reported yesterday that the Arlington County Board will consider a $26 million contract for the planning and construction management of the Columbia Pike streetcar project. It is another sign that the current Board has no intention of changing course unless voters toss them out.

Here are some questions that need to be answered before the Board votes to award this contract:

Why are we sending $26 million to the same company who handled planning and construction management for the D.C. streetcar project? While it may be operational later this fall, the first two and a half miles of a proposed 22-mile system in DC has repeatedly been delayed.

Should we rely on this company to have learned from multiple false starts, broken promises and bad PR? In other words, how do we know they will get it right this time?

What is the proposed timeline for completion? Are there penalties in the contract for failing to meet a timeline or incentives for meeting it? What about incentives for meeting the projected budget?

Is there a way for the County Board to buy out the contract without paying the full $26 million if the Board opts to scrap the project later — say if the 2015 elections produce an anti-trolley majority?

If this $26 million contract is for 30 percent of the design, what does that mean the ultimate design costs will be? Does anyone know or are they willing to tell us?

And a slightly more tongue-in-cheek question may be, should this move by the pro-trolley majority be considered an in-kind contribution to the Vihstadt re-election campaign? Injecting a contract of this size into the public discourse just six weeks from Election Day is certainly curious timing.

Speaking of Vihstadt, one thing is for sure: both he and Libby Garvey will come to Tuesday night’s meeting armed with these and many more serious questions about the contract. If you have questions you believe should be answered about moving forward with this contract, feel free to email your Board members. You can find their email addresses here: http://countyboard.arlingtonva.us/county-board-members/.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — September 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm 2,063 0

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Mary McCutcheon, a North Highlands resident.

Bristlegrass and Conyza Canadensis (photo by Mary McCutcheon)What is a “weed?” I posed this question to two of the inspectors in Arlington’s Code Enforcement office and was told by both that their definition comes from Webster’s dictionary. Before you continue reading, you should look it up and see for yourself if this venerable old lexicon provides any clear standard. O.K. Are you finished? So now that we know what we’re up against, I want to say that this vague and subjective definition is the basis for Arlington’s property maintenance code and people are getting citations that can incur very material and costly, not to mention invasive, penalties for those who are defiant.

I have a vacant piece of land where I am about to build a new house. Over the summer it became covered with multiple species dominated by Conyza canadensis and bristlegrass, both native meadow species, as well as Tradescantia virginiana, perennial lilies, and Monarda which had all begun to look droopy as their flowering season came to an end. Until construction begins, I thought the land was better off with a cover of vegetation, especially these species which attract birds and pollinators. When I got a notice that I had violated the weed ordinance, I was hurt and ashamed and a little indignant all at once.

I phoned the inspector who had issued me the citation and asked what a weed was. That is when I learned that Webster’s dictionary is the botanical reference book that Arlington County uses (per directions of one of Arlington’s attorneys, I learned). I then asked this inspector if Joe Pye weed, Butterfly weed, and Milkweed were “weeds” and, after a painful pause, he blurted “Ma’am, I’m not an arborist.”

In the meantime, the people promoting native plants and rain gardens are explicitly encouraging Arlington citizens to plant more and more of these “weeds.” Let’s make sure the code is consistent with the policy and protect the residents, as well as the flustered inspectors, from confusion.

Responding to my objection that code enforcement is mostly complaint-driven, the inspector replied that citations mainly result from routine drive-by surveys. When I pointed out that a property only a block away from my property had poison ivy tumbling into the road and porcelain berry and other invasive vines growing all over the chainlink fence and it’s barbed wire top, the inspector replied: “Well, if you want something done about it, you should file a complaint.”

Why do we have such codes in the first place? It is not to keep up an aesthetic standard in neighborhoods, as you might have thought; it is, according to the code itself, only to address health and public safety threats. And, according to the inspectors, “weeds” are more often associated with insects, rats and snakes than non-weeds. The truth is that scorched earth clearing and exposed pools of standing water are most often associated with mosquito larvae; vegetable gardens, bird feeders and exposed food waste are most often associated with rats; and the rocky edges of streams such as Four Mile Run are havens for copperhead snakes.

Home owners should not be denied their property rights without compelling public interest. The remote suspicion that one might possibly imagine that there may conceivably be a non-zero probability that a mosquito, a rat, or a snake lives on someone’s land doesn’t cut it.

Photo by Mary McCutcheon

by Mark Kelly — September 11, 2014 at 3:45 pm 522 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyMy story of Sept. 11 was in no way heroic or unique. But, like most Arlingtonians who lived here that day, it is still vividly etched in my mind.

My wife and I boarded a plane bound for Washington early on the morning of Sept. 11 after spending a long weekend in Florida. Little did I know that hundreds of my fellow Americans were doing the same, but they would never land safely back on the ground.

When our wheels touched down at Reagan National that morning, the first plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. As we deplaned and went to catch a cab to the office on Capitol Hill, the second plane struck the second tower.

Capitol Hill was buzzing with the news when we arrived. Soon, I learned of what had happened in New York, and like so many of us watched the television in disbelief.

Not long after arriving at my office just across the street from the Capitol, there were reports of an explosion at the Pentagon which turned out to be terrorists flying American Airlines Flight #77 into the building. My wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “they are coming here next.”

As we evacuated our office, the beautiful blue sky was soon filled with the sounds of fighter jets that had been scrambled to DC as well as black smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

When we learned later that United Airlines Flight #93 had gone down in Pennsylvania, we had no doubt that it was en route back to the Washington area. I cannot help but think that those passengers may have saved my life.

A few hours later, we caught a ride with a friend back across the Potomac to our condo in Pentagon City. The next morning, a thin layer of soot covered my car and the smell of smoke still lingered in the air. It was a chilling reminder of what had happened and the loss so many families were feeling just 24 hours after starting their Tuesday like normal.

The hill beside our building became a makeshift memorial, as people would gather each evening to look down on the Pentagon and the huge American flag draped near the devastation that took place there. People would gather, watch, cry and pray.

Thirteen years ago we were attacked because we were Americans. In the attacks, 2,977 died and thousands more were injured. In response, we saw America rally in remarkable ways as a nation.

When we visit the Pentagon Memorial or when I drive by the piece of steel from ground zero at Arlington County Fire Station 5, I remember. I do not know how we will commemorate Sept. 11 50 years from now, but I know it will still be worth remembering.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Larry Roberts — September 11, 2014 at 3:15 pm 505 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsOn Sept. 11, 2001, I was an attorney working with a law firm in offices a few blocks from the White House. I also was serving as Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

At the end of that tragic day, I prepared an email to Arlington Democrats describing my thoughts about that day and how we might respond to the tragedy.

Each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, I look back on that email to remember what I felt at the time. I remain proud of my words that day:

Dear Arlington Democrats,

Our nation has endured a vicious attack directed at symbols of its financial and military might. The attackers succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center, damaging the Pentagon, and bringing grief to countless families, friends and colleagues of the victims of the attack. The attackers failed miserably, however, in their primary objective — destroying the very fabric of our democratic society.

We have shown our ability as a nation and as Americans to face up to catastrophic circumstances and respond with the best we have to offer.

People gave up their lives to help others to survive. Countless Americans donated blood, food, and other needed supplies. Schoolteachers and administrators kept a sense of calm in our schools and among our children. Journalism rose to meet the challenge of keeping us informed with factual information and avoiding speculation and sensationalism. Our public officials provided the necessary and appropriate leadership and words of comfort.

Leaving the District and returning to Arlington by Metro, I was struck by the poignant conversations of people coming to grips with a tragedy that had struck too close to home. Everyone was calm, respectful of those around them, and purposeful.

As I left the Rosslyn Metro station and walked to the Courthouse area, cars made their way in an orderly way along Wilson Boulevard. Arlington’s diversity was reflected among the many, many people who walked along the same road to their residences. The sense was that we were all Americans — no matter our race, ethnicity or religion — and that we all were preparing ourselves for the challenges ahead without the hysteria and scapegoating that can accompany such trying times.

As I returned home, I saw on television the dramatic footage of what was taking place at the Pentagon and the Virginia Hospital Center — Arlington. I was proud that our Arlington emergency personnel (police, fire and rescue), our Arlington health care providers, and our County government had responded so quickly, persistently, and effectively to what was a situation of national and international importance. We saw the leaders of our state, region and nation rise to the occasion.

I think our political and civic leaders made the right choice in canceling activities and campaigning yesterday and last night. That was a time to focus on the situation at hand and to put aside our partisan differences.

As we know, life must go on. Were it not to go on with some semblance of normalcy, the terrorists would be victorious. They will not achieve such a victory.

Still, each of us must come to grips with these extraordinary events in our own way and in our own time. For some of us, there will be losses to deal with that are personal and severe. Others of us will be ready to get back to the campaign trail as soon as possible — perhaps as a way to reach out for comfort from friends in our Arlington Democratic family.

Let us respect those who need some time off and let us also respect those who are ready to get back to the business of electing our leaders of tomorrow.

As campaigners, let us be sure to respect the sensitivities of those of our Arlington residents who choose not to focus on the campaign just yet.

As these events unfold, we will once again see the importance of those who serve as our leaders, and the importance of electing leaders who appeal to and serve our better instincts and values.

That is why it is so important for us to engage in the electoral process and to work together as Arlington Democrats.

I look forward to seeing all of you soon. Take care and keep in our thoughts and prayers those who are helping others, who are leading us, who are in need, who are grieving, and who have lost their lives.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice and served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. On September 11, 2001, he was Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — September 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm 593 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast week, a jury rendered its guilty verdict in the trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. The jury found the McDonnells guilty of multiple violations of federal criminal law relating to public corruption.

The jury answered decisively the question I raised in an Aug. 7 column: a crush does NOT excuse a crime.

Most legal experts and political observers agree that Virginia’s state criminal laws on public corruption are so full of holes that the McDonnells could not have been successfully prosecuted under those state laws. Far from discouraging corrupt conduct, Virginia’s porous state laws enable it.

Any tightening of Virginia’s criminal laws on public corruption must be done at the state level. Under Virginia’s Dillon Rule,” individual localities like Arlington cannot adopt ordinances that conflict with current state criminal law. But, that does not mean that Arlington has no room to act on its own.

For example, earlier this year the Arlington School Board adopted a new gifts policy. Under the School Board’s new policy:

Employees may accept gifts valued at a total of $100.00 or less during a school year from any one student, individual, family or organization, including PTAs and Booster organizations. In no instance shall an employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of the employee’s duties or given with the intent to influence an employee’s actions. Any single gift valued at more than $100.00, or gifts totaling more than $100.00 from one giver during the course of a year, must be returned to the giver.

I commend the School Board for the positive example it set by taking this action. As I have written previously, now it’s time for the County Board to step up to the plate.

The current County Board Ethics Policy is much too vague and weak. On the subject of gifts, for example, the current County Board policy simply urges its employees to “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.” This provision simply urges County employees not to violate the toothless provisions of current Virginia state criminal law.

The County Board can and should do much better.

To get started, the County Board should follow the lead of the School Board and adopt a gifts policy. Emulating the School Board, the County Board ought to adopt a $100 limit on gifts.

It’s time for the County Board to send a strong signal that it is committed to the highest ethical standards.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by ARLnow.com — September 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm 3,131 0

Aerial view of apartment buildings in Courthouse (Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian)The local furor over Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) view of Arlington as a “soulless suburb” has yet to die down.

Within eight hours of our article’s first publication, Gillibrand apologized for the remark (which was buried in the pages of her new book, “Off The Sidelines.”) But that didn’t stop the debate over whether Gillibrand was off-base or on-target in her assessment of Arlington.

Among those weighing in: Ben Adler, a former New Yorker and a writer at the environmental news website Grist.org. Penning a piece for the Washington Post’s online PostEverything op-ed section, Adler said Gillibrand shouldn’t apologize.

Some excerpts from that article:

For one year I worked at an office in Arlington, Virginia. There were virtually no restaurants that were not chains. Everything was crowded at peak lunch hour but completely empty by 3 p.m. and closed by the time I left work.

Kirsten Gillibrand… correctly identified Arlington in her new memoir as a “soulless suburb.” That’s exactly what most of my friends who have lived in D.C. would call it. In fact, when I was recently trying to describe the cultural vacuity of the “Williamsburg Edge,” a new apartment tower in Brooklyn, I called it, “Arlington on the East River.” My friend who lived in Washington laughed knowingly. He required no further explanation.

Arlington… lacks a physical center, a public space like Dupont Circle, where buskers can play music and activists can make speeches. A centrally located, and well-designed park — with facilities for both active and passive recreation such as basketball courts, chess tables, and benches — would go a long way towards giving Arlington a soul. Most important, unlike all of Arlington’s misbegotten little plazas, it has to be designed to draw passersby in and to engage with the streets around it.

That prompted at least one notable D.C. resident to call foul.

“At the risk of defending Arlington (!), isn’t this @badler piece just about Rosslyn, not all of Arlington?” asked Washington City Paper editor Mike Madden, via Twitter.

Perhaps the best judges of whether Arlington County does or does not lack a soul are those who actually live here. So what do you think?

Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian

by Peter Rousselot — September 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,245 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn Aug. 27, ARLnow.com revealed that Arlington Public Schools (APS) has decided to give a new Macbook Air computer to every ninth-grader at Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools.

Regardless of whether APS’ decision is right or wrong, the decision badly flunks any reasonable test of transparency.

Whether to undertake this initiative cries out for a thoughtful, careful process of advance consultation with parents and the public. The failure to have such a process precede the decision reflects remarkable tone deafness.

Here are just some of the reasons why the decision is wrong according to angry ARLnow commenters:

  • There is too large a mismatch between the way the current curriculum is structured and the ability to use a personal computer in the classroom effectively, so it is premature to introduce personal computers in the classroom until this mismatch is corrected;
  • Too many teachers cannot use effectively the technology tools they already have (Smartboards and TVs), so it is not realistic to believe those teachers will be able effectively to integrate the new personal computers into their classroom instruction;
  • Being prepared for the 21st century means learning how to budget one’s financial resources, and the message we’re sending kids by paying for them to have free Macs is that everyone can just have what’s very expensive and hip at everyone else’s expense;
  • Even if a requirement that all HS Freshmen have a Macbook Air is appropriate, that requirement should be imposed first on the parents, with financial assistance made available to every family that cannot afford to purchase one;
  • Given the capacity crisis APS faces, the money spent on purchasing these personal computers is better spent directly alleviating that crisis.

If you are part of APS’ management, and you believe that you have excellent answers to every one of the points noted above, and therefore that the public reaction to this decision is overblown, you are missing the point.

When you are using our taxpayer dollars to implement a decision like this one, you should be willing to stand up before the public, justify your decision, and engage with the public regarding its concerns.

APS management seems to be fixated on large-scale programs placing PCs in the hands of students. Remember the 1:1 initiative? More recently, at least one elementary school — Campbell — is planning to give iPads to all second graders — apparently without consulting parents or the public.

But, APS management hasn’t engaged with the Arlington community as to why APS thinks it can do better with these PC initiatives than Hoboken, N.J. Like many other school districts, Hoboken tried, but now has abandoned, its PC-for-every-student program.

APS has failed to meet its burden to prove it is ready to implement such programs in an effective way.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — September 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm 606 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

Yesterday’s report that Arlington County policy may leave First Amendment protesters subject to arbitrarily enforced rules should give us all pause.

The actual wording of the special events policy would apply to “one or more persons” with even just the “propensity to attract a crowd.” The remedy for police, presumably, would be to tell a small group or individual to go home or face a fine of indeterminate size.

As reported here in ARLnow, some sort of administrative language from county staff is supposed to be forthcoming to clarify the policy. Those holding up signs outside of a political event they disagree with may not be subject to its enforcement. In the the meantime, county staff’s current policy toward its enforcement is effectively “trust us,” according to yesterday’s report.

The reality is the policy as written could conceivably give the county the ability to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it applies and to which group — or even a single individual. It opens the door for county staff to make that determination based on the content of the speech. Imagine, for example, the county staff or Arlington Police Department gets a call from an angry Board Member whose event is being protested.

Giving the Board the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume it was not their intent to prohibit concerned citizens from peacefully or spontaneously protesting. Hopefully, Board members will have county staff recommendations on the policy by the time of the September Board meeting.

But, it should have never been passed without more specific clarifying language. As written, it may take more than a county staff clarification to effectively protect Arlingtonians from potential abuses. The Board itself should probably re-address the issue.

Next time, maybe someone will stop and think about what wording of a policy actually means before they pass it. There should be no question as to whether diversity of political opinion will be welcome in Arlington.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — September 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,004 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Andrew SchneiderArlington County Board candidate Alan Howze has announced a set of proposals to improve the streetcar system that would link Arlington with Alexandria and Fairfax and improve transit along one of the busiest corridors in the region.

The streetcar project will also provide significant financial returns to Arlington through economic development that, in turn, will generate revenues to help create needed schools while protecting neighborhoods and preserving affordable housing.

I support Alan’s campaign and his fundamental tenets of engaging Arlington’s voters and communities to improve on a project that has been the centerpiece of multi-year revitalization efforts for Columbia Pike and Crystal City. I applaud the many Arlingtonians who participated in those efforts.

In making his proposals, Alan has respected the long-standing and inclusive community planning process while looking for innovations to improve upon project implementation.

After talking to thousands of Arlington residents at their doors, he has made five proposals based on their suggestions:

  1. Timely construction should be a key contract requirement to minimize disruption, protect taxpayers, and accelerate streetcar benefits. Speed and accountability in government matters.
  2. Create a small business contingency plan to support small businesses affected by construction.
  3. Create a business and residents advisory council to ensure community issues arising during construction are dealt with promptly.
  4. Examine the feasibility of streetcars that run without wires for sections of the streetcar line to reduce use of overhead wires.
  5. Secure 100 percent renewable energy power supply for the streetcar to ensure a zero emissions system.

I have known and worked with Alan as a community leader. These proposals reflect his approach to meeting community challenges — thoughtful discussion, community input, considering needs of neighborhoods and the broader Arlington community, finding innovative solutions, looking to conserve community and taxpayer resources, addressing the vital imperative of climate change and environmental protection, and respecting community processes in order to encourage Arlingtonians to participate actively.

These attributes are important to me as a lifelong Arlingtonian dedicated to service making a difference.

More importantly, they are important to me as someone serving as President of the Yorktown Civic Association and taking a leadership role in the Lee Highway Revitalization project.

Formed in 2013, this project is a grassroots strategic partnership for re-visioning Lee Highway, involving the presidents and other interested members of the civic associations along Lee Highway. Moreover, this project has taken its template/lead from the thoughtful, inclusive, and deliberate Columbia Pike revitalization process that has been undertaken since the 1990s.

We anticipate developing a joint community vision for a more economically vibrant, walkable, attractive Lee Highway corridor to benefit neighborhoods and the business community. I expect that our vision will lead to a corridor that avoids disjointed development and that will support improved transit options as well.

We also anticipate that our joint community vision will be sent in 2015 to the County Manager’s office with a recommendation that the County Board appoint and fund a task force to develop a Lee Highway Sector Plan guiding future rezoning and development applications. (more…)

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